What Judaism teaches us about
the body and breathing

by Pr. Rav Yehoshua Ra'hamim Dipur
Modia site


Picture by the israeli artist Roee Yossef Suffrin (link)





 




Plan of the Study
See here for the author’s qualifications in this field

1. See all the links here, with 208 pages of Modia devoted to the meaning of the body in Judaism
2. A healthy and holy body
3. The Jewish approach to breathing. The Jewish psychology and theology of personal development
4. Bilingual vocabulary for the parts of the body
5. Vocabulary of medical treatments and bodily dimensions
6. Vocabulary of the living body of the Torah
7. Every Hebrew everyday word is also experienced in the Torah (new study to be posted soon on the site)
8. The proven Modia method for learning Hebrew
9. The Modia page which provides you with everything you need to know about Hebrew





[photo by the author]

2. A healthy and holy body. Important introductory note.

It is of vital importance to think and feel your body in Hebrew, for each word in Hebrew expresses corporal and spiritual dimensions which are encompassed in the Hebrew letters and in their positions within a word.
The Torah and the Psalms are impregnated with many such meanings!
As Psalm 84 says: “libbi u vessari yeranenu el El hai” (my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God).

It is, therefore, healthy and holy to consider our bodies in this perspective, for man was created in the image and likeness of God.
We are not angels. Those who invoke modesty as a reason to “ignore” this plan of Creation, are simply confused. They are as much mistaken as those who ignore the connection between creation and the Creator. All the mitzvot, even those of the heart, involve corporal actions.
We are not angels.
The Talmud has scathing words of censure for those who refuse to accept these dimensions, saying: it is of them that the prophet Isaiah states in God’s name: “they despise the work of my hands.” And the prophet adds: “Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified” (maasei yadai lehitpaer, Isaiah 60, 21).
Those who sever the land of Israel, which belongs solely to God, have no right to do so and those who sever their link to the created body and do not learn about it or praise it, have been warned of their error; they sow death.

Judaism is life “asher tihiyu – to be lived.”
Judaism possesses an anthropology, theology, philosophy and psychology of the body. But it is not presented in the same way as contemporary books, which address themselves solely to the intellect (“I think therefore I am”). Judaism is totally holistic and requires us to think with the heart, the body and the sensitivity of the soul, as much as with the intellect. This is what contemporary thinkers, with their uto-independence, do not understand. Psychoanalysis, however, devotes considerable time to making connections between multiple levels in order to comprehend the individual. Freud himself, who was shaped by Jewish culture, said that he studied the language of the body like a sacred text. We know which one he was referring to. Thus, in order to understand what Judaism teaches us about the body, we have to learn about circumcision, the role of the mikve, death and mourning rites, kosher food, the rites on waking up in the morning, the right posture for praying, the blessing before eating and before rinsing one’s hands, the extension of the hands in the blessing by the Cohanim, the movement of the body during Torah study, the role of the tallit, the headcover, the tefillin, the Jewish garment, fasting, the large number of religious laws governing physical relations and relations between the sexes, medical treatment, etc. You will find information on all the above in Modia, together with the traditional sources and their references.

These are important things which every Jew should know, and which every person who wishes to help Jews psychologically or medically should know. It is a mistake to rely solely on theoretical knowledge, and ignore the Jewish dimension, which is both a conscious and unconscious dimension in patients. Patients have a right to expect that the psychotherapeutic treatment they receive is competent in these domains. When the Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel, the country’s psychologists and psychiatrists discovered that they could not understand the psychology and pathologies of the new immigrants. It is the same for all individuals, each individual needs to be understood in the framework of his own culture. Only the ignorant believe that theories they studied are all that is needed, and everything is simple.

Understanding the Jewish dimension can only be achieved through the slow, progressive study of all the different elements. This is why Torah study is so interminable. There are no shortcuts, just as there are none if we try to understand ourselves or others. I have studied, published and taught extensively on this subject for several decades.

It is against this broad context that we are going to attempt to understand a “vital” subject – breathing

 


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3. Breathing: the Jewish meaning. The Jewish psychology and theology of personal development.

I dedicate this study to all those working in the fields of counseling, development, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, or in the many different branches of holistic and body/nefesh therapies. With the grace of God, I hope to give, after the summer vacation, a seminar in Jerusalem which will provide further theoretical and practical information on this subject for all professionals working in these fields. Please refer to the page devoted to the author for further material on this pluralistic approach. Talented professionals with whom I have had long experience conducting joint and complementary therapies will also speak at the seminar. I shall deal with the psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytical dimension, they with the physical-holistic dimension. (My Tel: 02-563413 or international 972-2-56341377).

The following study is important and essential, but not simple. This is because Modia takes you seriously. Life is not simple, nor is the Torah. Studies which follow the simple approach are erroneous. The Maharal of Prague put it perfectly in his book, Netiv ha Emet, when he warned people to beware of distorters of the Torah.


Respiration in Hebrew:

 

The respiratory process:
tahalikh ha neshima

Mouth: pe
Lungs: reot
Mechanism: mangenon
Nose: af
Respiration: neshima
Bronchial tubes: simponot
Air: avir
Bronchial tubes: simponot



 

The importance of the body-soul relationship


There is immense interest today in the connection between the body, psychology and spiritual life. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject and new institutes, teaching a wide range of methods, many based on ancient cultures, are being established daily in the West. There are many competent, authentic professionals who have undergone both technical as well as anthropological and spiritual training in this field. Many also understand and respect the science of psychotherapy.
But there are many who practice a myriad form of shortcuts, which attract the naïve and those who dream of quick fixes. Many so-called professionals who have undergone only brief periods of training often set themselves up as masters or gurus in complex Eastern methods without possessing true knowledge of these complex cultures which demand years of study and training before being able to practice.

The field of psychology and Judaism (and vice versa) is still in its infancy and there are few professionals who have a high level of knowledge in both fields.
It is not the type of garment one wears, the length of one’s beard, style of headdress, religious or secular affiliation which defines a person’s level of competence.

In view of the great public interest and awareness of the mind-body relationship, any serious Jewish psychotherapist and psychoanalyst requires greater knowledge in this field. One cannot content oneself with simply being proficient in one’s specific field, while ignoring these other dimensions. It is surprising that Freud did not see the importance of the connection between the body and the psychic, although he did credit Georg Groddeck (father of psychosomatic medicine) with abilities which he did not possess. But Freud discovered a lot, and it is now up to his successors to continue in his path and improve his approach. The deficiency is in those professionals who shut themselves in a corner and, since they lack the creativity of the founding therapists, they refuse to look at other increasingly important fields. Today, the field of psychology has expanded to include family systems theories, environmental influences, generational transmission, ethnology and anthropology. Training for counselors and psychotherapists is therefore extremely long and serious, as in medicine. Unfortunately, certain fields are far from this level.


Significance of this new trend


The greater awareness of the mind-body relationship reflects a true need: in a world which seems to have lost its bearings, people are aware of the emptiness and superficiality of modern values and seek new meanings, turning to a variety of professionals, often from Eastern cultures, to guide them. One should not look down at Eastern therapies, for they do not represent just a trend, but rather a need for a more holistic approach to the health of an individual.

Everywhere Eastern therapists are offering “the essential breath,” the essential respiration and its inter-connections – the “praya samyama” or balance of energies during breathing through the restriction of chaotic fluctuations and the promise of achieving, through prolonged breathing (“ayata-prana”), up to samadhi = ecstasy. They promise that this will ensure the health of all our organs, and lead to a holistic wellbeing and the termination of existential suffering. There is no doubt that the great traditions which gave birth to Abraham possessed and still possess these ancient sciences, which had nothing to do with local belief in idols.

Where does Judaism stand in the context of this global trend and what is its specific approach? We shall answer this question and will not content ourselves with easy analogies.

 

Does Judaism have its own science of breathing? If so, what is it?

It certainly does, and I stress the fact that it has its own “specific” approach.
Here it is: my presentation is based on original sources, not on third or fourth-hand dissertations, nor on my own imagination. The direct transmission of our culture based on the sources is the method I use for the Modia site – the word means “to make known” the authentic tradition.
Since the needs for global, holistic health are so great today, one cannot keep to oneself the treasure which Judaism offers in this area, particularly since many Jewish educators, therapists and psychoanalysts are unaware of the immense wealth that resides in their own tradition. It is important for them to understand the extent to which Jewish tradition is inculcated in an individual, consciously or unconsciously; it is a dynamic that dates from time immemorial, and influences the daily life of every Jew..
One can no longer limit oneself just to Freud. He himself continually sought to renew himself and discover hidushim — new insights.



 

Source No. 1 on the Jewish approach to respiration:
Middrash Rabba 14,9 on the book of Bereshit.



What is Middrash Rabba?

This is a collection of ancient Jewish traditions, which was compiled around the 5th century CE by Ribbi Ochaya Rabba, whose name appears at the beginning of the book. The word “middrash” had a number of meanings in ancient times and can mean “book, commentary, examination of a document, study, interpretation, reflection in the manner of Greek and Roman sages, halakhic discussion.” It often begins by commenting on a passage from the Torah through a verse taken from another context, which aims to clarify the meaning of the passage and which is then followed by a study.
Middrash Rabba is the oldest and the most structured middrash. The others were compiled in subsequent centuries, up to the Middle Ages. It is therefore an important document on the ancient traditions of Judaism.


 


Before we discuss the meaning of its teaching, here is the translation of Middrash 14, 9, which is not constructed according to the criteria of current works.
“A primitive being was created from the earth to the heavens and he received the influx and he is dead but in the future I shall put my spirit in you and you shall live…” (Ezekiel 37, 14)
Five names were given to this spirit: nefesh (personality), ruah (mind), neshama (soul), yehida (unique), haya (living).
Nefesh” as it is said: “for man is the nefesh” (Devarim 12, 23).
Ruah” for it rises and descends as it is said: “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward {while the spirit of the beast goes downward), (Kohelet/Eccelesiastes 3, 21).
Neshama” is hofia, respiration, as people say: “haofita tava” (his respiration is good, he is well).
Haya” (living), for all the organs dies but it lives on in the body.
Yehida” (unique), because our organs are always double, while it is unique in the body.
It is written on this: “if he had thought only for Himself (God), if he gathered unto himself his spirit and nishmato (his neshama, or his breath)”. The quote ends there but the end of the verse continues thus: “all flesh shall perish together and man shall turn again unto dust” (Job, 34, 14-15).
Ribbi Yehoshua, son of Ribbi Nehemiah, and the rabbis argued over this.
Ribbi Yehoshua, son of Ribbi Nehemiah, said: “If God places His heart on this man (Adam), his ruah (spirit) is already in his hand and he takes it but when a man sleeps, the neshama (soul) warms the body so that he does not get cold and die. In relation to this, it is said: “the candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20, 27).
Ribbi Bisni and Ribbi Ava and Ribbi Yohanan said, in the name of Ribbi Meir: “this soul fills the entire body and when a man sleeps, it rises and breathes towards him the life from above.” Ribbi Levi said in the name of Ribbi Hanina: “at every breath and breath (neshima) which man breathes, he must praise the Creator (borei).”
What is the meaning of this? “Kol ha neshama tehallel Ya, Let everything that have breath praise God (Psalm 150, 6). (end of the passage on respiration)

Study this passage and try to understand how it interprets the role of breathing and connects it with all our levels of existence, after which I shall present my commentary. This is the method with which, in Djerba, all Jewish children studied from early childhood: “roshi/Rashi,” (my head/Rashi): first I think with my own head, then I shall study Rashi or the other commentators.

Commentary

1.
It is important to note these four points in the passage:
• This passage, which is one of the oldest in the transmission of Jewish tradition, imparts to us an absolute equation between neshima (breathing) and the divine soul which is in us, and which gives and sustains life (neshama)
• From this, and with astonishing brevity, it reveals the multiple dimensions of this respiration-vital-divine soul within us.
• These multiple dimensions are inseparable, like a constellation of stars. This is why I placed at the top of this study the multiple, dynamic symbol of the Star of David.
• They also teach us about the nature of a Jew, his anthropological structure, his inner dynamics, pathological or natural, and the optimal, optative ones which enable him to live in integrity and wellbeing.

2.
Let us develop these four points.

The passage places every facet of breathing at the center of all the following dimensions:
• The very act of Creation: “a primitive being was created.”
• The very personal union between God and us: “I shall my spirit in you and you shall live”
• The simultaneous configuration of past, present and future; “but in the future….”
• The connection with what gives life to matter, or with death in the case of sin
• What characterizes and defines man: “for man is nefesh
• Complete permanence: “Haya (living), for all the organs die but it survives in the body”
• But there are also major risks: “but if he gathers towards Himself His spirit”
• Complete reassurance; breathing is viewed as warm, good, and vital:
“when a man sleeps, the neshama (soul) warms the body so that he does not get cold and die.”
• The movement of breathing, which rises continually, is an indication that we rise towards God at every moment: “the neshama fills the body and when a man sleeps, it rises and breathes towards him the life from above” and sustains life.
• It is the place of union with God, and the place of the presence of God in man: “the candle of God is the neshama of man.”

3. The passage then adds two essential elements (the second, that of the couple, will be developed later)..
First it cites the last verse of the last Psalm (150,6). This is not a coincidence for the verse represents the sum and purpose of every human being in his union with God. It therefore imparts to us a teaching of major importance; indeed one can say that it is the most important since it represents the culmination of Kind David’s writings.
Here is the full text of Psalm 150:
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet; praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance; praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals; praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.”

Below is the commentary of Middrash Rabba on the last verse:
“What is the meaning?
Kol ha neshama tehallel (let everything that hath breath praise God)
Kol ha neshima tehallel Ya (let every breath, neshima, praise God.”

 

How the commentators of Jewish tradition interpret the physical meditation involved in the act of breathing.

Notice how the configuration of neshama (soul) and neshima (breathing), as described above, is present every time we breathe, since the word kol (every) is clearly indicated. This is not a definition of some metaphysical philosophy; it involves the physical, continuous act of breathing.

The classical commentators stress the continuity and renewal involved in this act which should be accompanied by the continuity and renewal of conscious meditation on our connection to God (Ya).
And such a connection must include the word Hallel (praise).

In Hebrew, the structure of the word Hallel, which appears before the last word in the line above, is very significant:

• It contains first (one reads from right to left in Hebrew) the letter he representing the divine presence,
• Then the letter lamed appears twice; this is the only letter which unites top, middle and bottom in its shape. The fact that it appears twice emphasizes the continuous double element involved in the act of breathing and consciousness of God.
It also reflects the double dimension which breathes within us.

The appellation chosen, here, for God is the name YA which, with its two letters ? ? unites us with the double dimension of masculine and feminine present in God and in His Creation. This is what takes place in every act of meditative breathing.

The Middrash explains clearly that the neshama (soul which gives life) is not situated in one organ more than in another but, rather, that the act of breathing expresses best the renewal of life through union with the source, God the Creator.

Ibn Ezra adds that this is a remez (allusion) to the neshama eliona, to the soul of higher levels.

We can see that all these relationships, encompassed in every breath that rises and falls, are well represented in the two lamed letters of the word hallel.

This brings us to another concept: if we have fully understood the commentary of Metsudat Zion, which stresses the union between the nefesh (personality) and the neshama (soul - related to God), we become aware of another idea: we become complete for such a union with God is a source of joy.

In Sefer Halikutim, the Ari, zatsal, demonstrates that the verse (“Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord”) is the beginning and end of everything, for it is united to the first of the 72 divine names and to ketz, the end (the outcome). Without going into or understanding the entire meaning, his commentary makes us realize the importance accorded by Judaism to the fluid, vital, divine and physical act of breathing.

We come now to an additional concept:
Our studies on the Hallel (link) and on Perek Shira (link) showed us how the different creatures of Creation are connected to these dynamics and the Shla HaKadosh notes that Zohar II, 196A affirms that if we are able to make such praise, we would not be able to endure its intensity.
The present study demonstrates that human beings are also able to make this praise through the meditative conscious breathing that unites all these dimensions.

Below are four additional teachings:

1. Yalkut Shimoni tells us that when King David completed the Psalms with this verse, which we have shown to be so rich, he was overwhelmed with jubilation and said that such happiness had never been expressed before. A frog then warned him to be modest for it, the simple frog, emits constantly 3000 successful chants.
This was not so much a warning aimed at confronting King David with evidence of failure, but more a counsel that he should realize that animals understand the significance of complete, tranquil breathing that is united with all the dimensions present and which holistically unites all the different levels of one’s being in health, life and praise. The frog invited King David and ourselves to emulate all the creatures of Perek Shira and Hallel. This teaches us to love the physical dimension totally present in us.

2. Our Sages also draw our attention to the fact that the verse is written in the future: “let every thing that hath breath praise Ya” ; the Hebrew uses a verb in the future tense to stress the vital importance of breath which praises, and which must connect and integrate everything that is alive within us.

3. Praise.
One could ask: but why does praise emerge from all this, and not another feeling? Answer: when one loves, one marvels at the qualities of the other and this inner feeling sings towards the other, and speaks of the need to express and to articulate this feeling in song: the chant rises from every cell of one’s being. In his celebrated work Reshit Hokhma (chapter Ahava, 10), Ribbi Eliahu Vida comments on this verse thus: “Since Hashem, blessed be He, gives us breath and life, it is fitting that all breaths should be in the service of the Creator and this is why our Sages recommended that we recite the blessing of the last verse of Psalm 150 as noted by Ribbi Levi in Middrash Rabba 14, 9.”
And when one discovers that this inner chant possesses not just the dimensions of two beings but of all the universe and that it reaches even the very source of Creation, and that this Creation entails a relationship of love, gift, sharing and closeness, then the personal chant turns into all-encompassing praise. The ancient texts tell us that this is expressed in a simple breath. It is then no longer a question of “my” breath, it involves everything that breathes. Re-read now Psalm 150.
It is a great privilege to participate in this general praise, just as it is for a violinist who is asked to join the biggest orchestra in the world.
Try to understand for yourself the meaning of this praise: it has many other names, which only you will discover, not me.

4. The big cleansing. In Shnei Louhot HaBrit, Masekhet Pesskhim, Matsa ashiran 389, the Shla haKadosh, Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz states that when the children of Israel descended to Egypt and then departed, a complete removal of the klipot (hulls) which cover the neshamot (souls) took place. This is why the souls sang the last verse of Psalm 150. We should also reflect on this dimension regarding breathing (aspiration-expulsion).



Source No. 2, after Middrash Rabba 14,9: the commentary of the Zohar.
Let us continue our study together on the major Jewish texts.

 

1. The most supreme name.
The Zohar tells us that the level reached in this verse through breathing and reaching up to the name of God called YA, attains what it calls “shema ilea al cola, the most supreme name of all” (I Zohar 232b). This is why David placed “this” name in the last verse of the Psalms. Even in a mundane act such as breathing.
Observe the respiration depicted in this painting where Moshe Rabbenu fuses with all the different dimensions of space which he alone seems to occupy through his inner breathing and connection to the essence of all things. He feels the immense “body” of all the levels of existence. An immense breath. His body extends beyond the frame of the painting, top and bottom.
But, sadly, the people reject the option of such an immense respiration and asphyxiates itself, as it turns towards partial, lifeless gods (the Egyptian golden calf), and the majority of the people died in the desert as a result.

A painting by Roi Suffrin (link)

[private collection]

The fullness of this form of breathing is expressed in Judaism by the shofar which connects us in our most intimate being and heart with nature and with Heaven:
The respiration expands with the great blow of the shofar, as we see in another painting by Roi Suffrin.

The painter reflects here the many commentaries that have been written on breathing and the shofar – Beit Yosef, Orah Haim 199,4, chapter katav rabbenu, the Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 590, 8, the Hazon Ish on the laws of Rosh Hashana and the Encyclopedia Talmudit Vol. 16.

We see this also in another of his paintings where the figures that advance forward are connected to the source of their inner respiration, which has propelled them for generations and centuries till the present moment.

Every person who has undergone, in his family, the experience of being a Marrano, of having to hide or keep things secret, and who then feels his identity awaken with force in our generation (and they are many as I can vouch from the many letters I receive) will understand perfectly what I am describing.


2. The gift of life


Zohar II, 94b, on parasha Mishpatim, describes all the gifs which man receives and concludes thus: “he merits even more, and so he receives.. a nishmat hayim, a neshama of life, what is life (hayim)? It is the name YA as is written in our verse.” These supreme levels of the higher spheres are also called “guf” (body), but these are spiritual levels which are beyond our understanding. However, our attention is drawn to the fact that the body itself is link to the highest levels. It is not a question of stages: man is made fully in the image of the Creator.
And Zohar I, 119a tells us that, when the body is connected to these higher levels, a level of completeness (shalem) in attained, as indicated in the verse from Psalm 150.

3. Access to the Treasure


Zohar 1, 174a, on parasha Teruma, tells us that this union opens the 32 ways of wisdom and everything which is above and below, and the ruah hakodesh, the divine wind will then spread in every direction and all the treasures of the King will be accessible. I have depicted this in this drawing of a Magen David, constantly expanding towards infinity through the process of our respiration at this very moment of Creation: the present moment.


[drawing by the author]

4. Immediacy


Tikkunei Zohar 50a tells us that when the darkness (of our unconscious) is removed from the neshama, the entire neshama will “miyad, immediately” praise YA. I do not claim to impart every complex meaning of this text; I simply wish to instill the desire to learn more as students – wherever you live – guided by qualified teachers, and following the traditional stages for there are no shortcuts. If you do not study step by step in close rapport with a teacher, you will think you understand but you will in fact be mistaken. Ancient Iranian wisdom uses an even stronger term than step to express this process: it talks of “manzel be manzel,” house by house. Everything is complete (as with a house) but there is a new growth of the house-respiration at every moment of our lives.

5. Union


Tikkunei Zohar 50b adds that the two letters YA in the verse “the entire neshama (neshima) will praise YA” represent the analogous union-marriage (zivug) between wisdom (hochma) and understanding (bina), and what is lacking in Shemot 17,16: “ki yad al kes Ya” or what is imperfect such as Amalek will become complete, as expressed in our verse, in the plenitude of neshama/neshima. This shows us the immense significance of a true, physical act of meditation.

6. Expansion

Tikkunei Zohar 52a then shows us the fruits of this process.

This study was a clarification of Middrash Rabbah on Bereshit.



Source No. 3, Middrash Rabbah 2, 37 on Devarim

The three dimensions of breathing.

This passage from Middrash Rabbah begins with the verse from the Torah which it immediately connect to breathing and the components of our being, then to the great conjugal relationship between God and us. Let us follow closely these three stages and try to understand why the focus is “specifically” on respiration.

Let us begin with the text of the Middrash:
It begins with the verse which every Jew recites every day:

“And thou shalt love Hashem thy God with all thine heart, and all thy nefesh (soul/personal being),” (Devarim 6,5).

The Middrash expands, as below (it describes the forms of neshama which we now know consists of neshama/neshima: all five nefesh, the similarity between God and us, seeing him, joy, the couple) :

“What is the meaning of this verse? It means with all your nefesh and nefesh which He created in you.

Ribbi Meir said: with every breath (neshima) and breath which man makes, he must praise his Creator. How does one know this? From the Psalms: let everything that hath breath praise YA.”

Ribbi Simon said: 5 names were given to the nefesh and these are: ruah (spirit), nefesh (personality), neshama (soul), haya (living), yehida (unique).

The rabbis said: come and see (this is a typical expression of the highest level, that of the Zohar which sees, in contrast to the Talmud which thinks and studies; and here, the question will truly involve “seeing.”).
Ha Kadosh barukh Hu fills His world, and this nefesh fills the body.
Ha Kadosh barukh Hu fills His world and this nefesh carries the body.
Ha Kadosh barukh Hu is one (unique, yahid) in his world and the nefesh is unique in the body.
Ha Kadosh barukh Hu before thim there is no sleep (shena) and the nefesh has no sleep.
Ha Kadosh barukh Hu is pure (tahor) in his world and the nefesh is pure in the body.
Ha Kadosh barukh Hu sees and is not seen and the nefesh sees and is not seen.
So… let the nefesh that sees but is not seen come and praise Ha Kadosh barukh Hu who sees and is not seen!

Israel said: Master of the world, this nefesh which You praise, until when will it lie on the dust? “for our nefesh is bowed down to the dust” (Psalm 44, 26) Ha Kadosh barukh Hu said to them: “Through your life, will come the time when your nefesh will rejoice.”

This is why Isaiah consoles you and says: “I will greatly rejoice in Hashem, and my nefesh (soul) shall be joyful in my God” (Isaiah 61, 10).

(Commentary: based on this, the Middrash draws a logical conclusion: this relationship is analogous to that of the perfect love between a bride and groom during the marriage ceremony; it reveals, stage by stage, the beauty and intensity of what takes place (in the context of breathing) and calls us “Israel=Kalla” a word which means simultaneously beloved, fiancée, spouse. I have given the full quotes below with the words of Ribbi Berekhia in bold, so that the meanings of the references are more easily understood in their context: in ancient times, students were able to do this spontaneously for they knew the texts by heart.)

And Ribbi Berekhia said: in 10 places Ha Kadosh barukh Hu called Israel “Kalla” (remember that this word means beloved, fiancée and spouse), here they are:

1. “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse/beloved (iti me levanon kalla), Song of Songs 4, 8.
2. “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse, (bati legani ahoti kalla), Song of Songs 5, 1.
3. “Thou hast ravished my heart my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck” (levavteni ahoti kalla…), Song of Songs 4, 9.
4. “How fair is thy love my sister, my spouse” (ma yafe dodaikh ahoti kalla), Song of Songs 4, 10.
5. “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb” (nofet titfana sfotaikh), Song of Songs, 4, 11.
6. (“For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee); and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee” (ki yival bahur betulla yivaslokh banekha umeshosh hatan al kalla yashish alekha elokhekha), Isaiah 62, 5.
7. (Thus spoke Hashem: Once again we will hear in this place which, you say, is ruined, devoid of men and beast, in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, abandoned without men, residents or cattle, the sounds of rejoicing, the cries of joy), “the voice of the groom and the voice of the kalla,” the voice of those who cry: pay homage to Hashem-Tzvaot, for Hashem is good and his mercy is everlasting! While bringing offerings to the Temple of the Lord, for I shall bring back the captives of this land, as they were once, said Hashem. Jeremiah 43,11.
8. (Lift up thine eyes round about and behold; all these gather themselves together and come to thee. As I live, said Hashem), thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee as a bride doeth” (sayi sviv eineikha verai kulam bebetsu bau lekha hai ani neum adonai ki kulam keadi tilbesi vetitkashrim kekalla), Isaiah 49, 18.
9. (I will greatly rejoice in Hashem, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments), and as a kalla adorneth herself with jewels” Isaiah 61, 10.

(At this point, I want to point out two commentaries:
1. The text: “the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, kol hatan ve kol kalla” is also found in Jeremiah 7, 34; 16, 9; and 25, 10. Read also Song of Songs 4, 8 to 4, 12 and verse 5, 1. The word kalla in the Torah is also used to mean “the wife of the son” (as in Bereshit 39, 11 and 24 and Ruth, chapters 1 and 2).
2. Ribbi Berekhia stresses even further the nature of this union in a common breath when he says that it is not just Israel which receives these magnificent higher levels, but Israel – us – which possesses the incredible power to embellish God himself. The respiration of holiness extends that far. See the rest of this text)

Corresponding to the 10 references, Israel crowns Ha Kadosh barukh Hu with 10 garments:
1-2. (I put on righteousness and it clothed me); my judgment was as a robe and a diadem,” Job 29, 14. Here are two (meaning 2 garments).
3-5. “ For he put on righteousness as a breastplate… (he was clad with zeal as a cloke), Isaiah 59, 17. Here are 5.
6. (I continued to look, while the thrones were cast down and the Ancient of days did sit). “His garment was white as snow,” (and the hair of his head like the pure wool, his throne was like the fiery flame and his wheels like burning fire), Daniel 7, 9.
7. “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel?” Isaiah 63, 2.
8-9. “Hashem reigneth, he is clothed in majesty; Hashem is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself” Psalm 93, 1.
10. (Blessed be, my soul, Hashem, Hashem, my God, you are infinitely great). “You are clothed in splendor and majesty.” This makes 10.

(Commentary. There is no doubt that respiration, here, which is the overall context of this text, represents a meditative attitude towards complementarity and union between God and man.) The text ends with an interpretation which stresses that we are not aware of this beauty and we needed the revelation to make it known to us (this is the meaning of Modia: to make known). The author stresses that, even if we are not conscious of this, it is so.)
Here is another comment: “Sos assis baHashem, I shall greatly rejoice in Hashem” (Isaiah 61, 10). What does this recall? A bride whose husband, son or son-in-law are in another city, as is written in the Pessikta (of Ribbi Kahana on this verse, chapter 22, 147, 1).

(end of text)

Commentaries:
1. This last comment by Ribbi Berekhia indicates that, even though the significance of the continuous movement of rising towards and descending from God through respiration, has been revealed to us, we shall feel it as something that is often painfully or distant.
2. But this should not affect the trust, loyalty and even reassurance which we have when we constantly re-build our consciousness of this living union.
3. It is now up to the reader to draw his own understanding of the dynamic dimensions involved in breathing which he learnt from the oldest and most solid Jewish traditions, which I have attempted to clarify, without making any additions.
I pointed out some of these dimensions, but it is by reflecting on the texts by yourself that you will be able to discover your own approach, for each reader is a unique musical instrument to whom no other can be compared and who was created thus by the will of the Creator. A Rav’s teaching is only a tool, a conduit, a channel. As it is written in the Ethics of Our Fathers: asse lekha rav, make yourself a Rav, i.e. take what you can receive from a Rav. There is a lot of depth in this. Being servile is contrary to this principle and to what God asked of Abraham in the first revelation: lekh lekha, go towards thyself. A Rav is a person who transmits and teaches but he is only an adjunct.

4. It is true that one can learn from other cultures, and this is wisdom. But it is impossible “to be” if one ignores one’s own culture. And it is even more impossible if those who work in a therapeutic capacity (educators, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, personal development holistic therapists) ignore the cultural and anthropological background of their Jewish patients. The situation is even more absurd if a Jewish patient asks for help from a Jewish professional who refuses to study the age-old wisdom of his own culture.
It is for this reason that my doctoral thesis focused on: “the influence of culture on a patient’s dreams.” Even before immigrating to Israel where I began to train psychotherapists from different cultures (far more than in France or in other countries where I worked) who were themselves working in cross-cultural circles, I had studied the language and culture of the founding authors of Arab culture, as well as of other cultures. Young Israelis often came to study with me after having spent time studying Eastern cultures. Man does not exist separate from the anthropological world that surrounds him and, in particular, not from his own ancestral anthropology.

The most important basic tack of educators and therapists is to learn their own living sources and to treat them with the same seriousness as their own professions. I integrate this approach when training and supervising individual therapists and many have already integrated it in their work. After the summer vacation, I shall offer a regular seminar on this subject for psychotherapists in Jerusalem, with the will of God, His help and together with other co-practitioners.

 




Source No. 4 for the Jewish approach to breathing:
the teaching of the Kabbalists

 

It is clear that this is not the place to go into Kabbala in depth. I shall just provide references so that advanced students can study them. The issue of the 5 levels of the neshama (soul) is developed by the Ari, zal, in Etz Hayim 42, 2-3. He writes that each level itself is in a dynamic that involves the 10 sefirot. I point this out so that you will realize the richness involved even though it is beyond the grasp of our understanding. In Chapter 42, 2, the Ari goes so far as to say that the neshama is called guf (body) and that it is not the neshama which sins but the nefesh and the body. We see that a lot of training is needed in order to understand these complex notions.

In Chapter 21 of Pardes Rimonism, Ribbi Moshe Cordovero deals with how to pronounce the divine names and the form of breathing required during meditation on the divine names. He presents a precise method of pronouncing the names, using this or that vowel and he describes how to breathe at every moment of the pronunciation of the names. He shows us that this tradition, which passed through Abulafia (in the Middle Ages) to our daily prayers and to the commentaries on the verses of the Torah, was handed down and published in the books of the Sages and is practiced by Sages who received and were acknowledged capable of receiving this ancient, complex tradition. This is rare and anyone who tries to venture on his own in this domain, without acquiring beforehand advanced training in Torah, Talmud, halakha, according to the traditional methods, will understand nothing.
This brief allusion to the texts of the Sages conforms with everything that was written above.

 



Source No. 5 in the Jewish approach to breathing:
List of sources quoted:


Tanakh:
Bereshit 7, 22 with Rashi. II Samuel 22; 16 with Metsudat David. I Kings 20, 31. Isaiah 30, 32 with Radak. Jeremiah 11, 19 with Radak. Job 26, 4 and 33, 4 with Metsudat Tzion. Kohelet 9 (Ecclesiastes) 6, 17 with Torah Temima. Commentary by Ribbi Eliahu Vidas, the celebrated author of Reshit Hokhma (chapter Ahava, 10).

Middrash Rabbah:
Bereshit 14, 9. Devarim 2, 37.

Talmud:
Rashi on Hagiga 12b. Numerous commentators on Succa 53-54. Shabbat, Tossafot on 121b. Rosh Hashana 33b-35a with numerous commentators.

Zohar:
II Mishpatim 94b and 119a. II Teruma 174a.
Tikkunei Zohar: 50b and 52a.
And Pardes Rimonim by M. Cordovero, ch. 21 and Etz Hayim 42, 2-3.

Prayer book:
Vitry, the Rokeah, and other commentators on the verse from Psalm 150.

Halakha:
Beit Yosef, Orah Hayim 199,4, chapter katav rabbeinu. Numerous commentators on respiration and the shofar where each sound has to be made with just one breath, such as Shulkhan Arukh Orah Hayim 590, 8 and onwards, and Hazon Ish on the halakhot of Rosh Hashana and the Talmudic Encyclopedia, vol. 16.

The Shla haKadosh. Ribbi Yeshaya Horowitz in Shnei Louhot HaBrit, Massekhet Pessakhim, Matsa ashira, 389.

 


 


Summary of the Jewish approach to breathing
as described in this study

The goal of this summary is to

enable you,
during the meditative, conscious act of breathing,
to feel them personally and develop them at every instant: “Shiviti Hashem le negdi tamid, I have set Hashem always before me,” as is written in Psalm 16, 8
and to unite with these different dynamics:

- breathing-soul…… primitive man
- influx which gives life….....adam (man
- 5 types of soul
- it involves all men
- rising and falling towards God the source
- uniqueness
- warming
- in the hand of God
- praising God
- jubilation
- double place
- double connection
- God/me
- man/woman and the alternate rhythm of the couple
- completeness
- the 32 ways of Wisdom
- access to the divine
- immediacy
- union
- full, fullness
- door/gate
- constant awakening
- vision
- discovery of the divine duality of every
creature
- Awakening

Questions for all counselors, educators, therapists, etc.: “Have I perceived these dynamics in the make-up of Jews whom I am treating? Have I developed these dimensions in myself? For they are the bases of a person’s personality and “life.” Am I cognizant with the Jewish anthropology that underlines those I treat? An anthropology which is inscribed unconsciously but powerfully within the individual.

Chinese civilization saw that it is possible to work on (gong) energy (qi) and so it invented Qigong which is based on three regulatory exercises (san tiao): the regulation of the physical body (tiao chen), which represents the Jewish approach; regulation of breathing (tiao xi), which we have seen is important in Judaism; and regulation of the heart (tiao zin), Judaism has infinitely developed this dimension (see link on Modia). So how is it that we acknowledge the contributions of other civilizations, something which the Torah recognizes (cf. the passage in the Talmud on the distribution by the Creator of the 10 measures among the nations of the world), and refuse to acknowledge the measures of our own wisdom? We must end this state of affairs which came about because of an exile that lasted nearly 2000 years, for we are the generation of liberation.

 





 

 

Conclude this study by reading this page (link)
with graphic photos that illustrate and expand within us the great respiration of the universe.

And let us discover this deliverance
simultaneously in the text, in the gift of nature,
which we should look and bless to fully understand the, and
in an inner respiration which is unique to each of us:

 

“Shall I bring to the birth, said Hashem,
and not cause to bring forth!
If I am the one who gives life, shall I shut the womb!
Yes, as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make
shall remain before Me,
so shall your seed and your name remain” (Isaiah 66, 9, 22)

“And the light of the moon shall be
as the light of the sun” (Isaiah 30, 26)

“Fair as the moon, luminous as the sun” (Song of Songs 6, 10)